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Buckeyes' ultimate goal is still on the table

Buckeyes' ultimate goal is still on the table

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Coming down the stretch, No. 6 Ohio State's biggest goal - going 12-0 - is still very much within reach.

Some of the Buckeyes don't want to talk about it for fear of jinxing it. Others freely acknowledge that there'd be nothing better than running the table and showing up all of the naysayers after last year's losing season and a year of NCAA violations, suspensions, sanctions and humiliation.

Even coach Urban Meyer - who jokingly chided a reporter for mentioning that Ohio State's center hasn't made a bad snap all year - mentions 12-0 to his team.

``We know how big it is and it's rare that you see a team go undefeated,'' wide receiver Corey Brown said. ``We know that, because (Meyer) talks about it all the time, obviously. This group is hungry enough and everybody wants to do it because we're all in, all the time.

``There's no doubt in my mind that we'll do it.''

The Buckeyes are banned from going to a bowl game, so it's a longshot that they could impress enough Associated Press media voters to climb all the way to No. 1 without playing after the regular-season finale on Nov. 24 against No. 23 Michigan.

But 12-0? All that requires is coming off a bye week and winning at Wisconsin on Saturday before knocking off the rival Wolverines a week later.

``We need to be 12-0,'' fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren said. ``It's one game at a time. We're not thinking about injuries, polls (or the fact that) we have nothing after the Team Up North game. We've got the two biggest games of the season coming up.''

Meyer was asked on Monday if, knowing that his team can't play in a bowl, he has to fight the urge to think the Buckeyes might miss out on all the national championship talk because there will be no postseason games.

``You know, I could lie to you and say that I don't. Every once in a while (I think about it), but not as much as I thought,'' he said. ``I'll hear it and read it once in a while, and I have good friends in the profession that will make a comment, and I'll think about it for a second. But then I go back to knowing exactly who we were, and you go back to how we've won and who we are right now. We're pretty fortunate where we are. Let's find a way to get (win) No. 11.''

How rare is an unblemished season with no losses or ties? Consider that Ohio State trumpets that it has won seven national championships - yet has only gone unbeaten five times in 122 previous seasons of football.

The only perfect seasons have come in 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002. In Buckeyes lore, each has its own, distinct flavor, figurehead or fact.

The '16 team that went 7-0-0 was led by Ohio State's first great player, halfback Charles ``Chic'' Harley. Carroll Widdoes was a rookie coach (Paul Brown had left abruptly after the '43 season) and Les Horvath became the first of the school's seven Heisman Trophy winners while going 9-0-0 in '44.

Fans burned first-year coach Woody Hayes in effigy in 1951, but three years later he led the Buckeyes to a 10-0-0 record. Left halfback Howard ``Hopalong'' Cassady, who would win the Heisman in 1955, was the star.

Hayes' ``Super Sophs'' - Jack Tatum, Rex Kern, John Brockington, Leophus Hayden, Larry Zelina, Tim Anderson, Jan White, Jim Stillwagon and others - went 9-0-0 and then beat O.J. Simpson and Southern California 27-16 in the 1969 Rose Bowl.

And then there was Ohio State's most recent national championship team in 2002, which won seven games by seven points or fewer. Jim Tressel's team beat No. 1 Miami 31-24 in double-overtime in the Fiesta Bowl in the national championship game.

This year's team has won ugly (holding off Central Florida, California, UAB and Michigan State), won big (63-38 against No. 16 Nebraska) and won improbable (trailing 22-14 with under a minute left without starting quarterback Braxton Miller, yet beating Purdue, 29-22 in overtime).

Defensive end John Simon urges caution on all the 12-0 talk.

``We're just not getting ahead of ourselves. We know every day is going to count if we want to achieve our goals,'' he said. ``There's definitely light at the end of the tunnel. You can see it. But these are going to be two of our toughest games of the year. So we're going to have to make sure we're prepared for each one of them and doing whatever we can to leave nothing to chance.''

Meyer wants to take it a step at a time, too.

``I tried years ago not to control what we can't control,'' he said. ``We've got to have a really good Tuesday practice. We can control that. We can't control anything else.''

There's no need for the coaching staff to even bring up what winning these last two games would mean.

``We realize we have a legitimate chance to go undefeated,'' Brown said. ``I don't think (Meyer) has to emphasize the rankings and what we have to do. He knows that we know what we have to do now.''

Boren, a senior, has seen a lot of ups and downs in his four years on campus. Just like the five unbeaten teams, he knows that a perfect record would put the Buckeyes - his Buckeyes - in the record books, not to mention the lasting memory of Ohio State fans.

``It'd mean a lot,'' he said. ``It would mean a lot to this team, just because of how much we have been through and how hard we've worked and how much time we've put in. We really need to finish.

``Going 12-0, it'd be nice.''

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.